Kurt J. Nagle, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Port Authorities, said his organization’s overall legislative priorities in 2013 will continue to revolve around infrastructure needs.
“Where there is federal jurisdiction, we need the federal government to step up to the plate and be a stronger partner for our nation’s transportation infrastructure particularly as it relates to seaports on both the land and water sides,” he said.
Nagle spoke to American Shipper
at the conclusion of a seminar in Tampa, Fla., last week on “Shifting International Trade Routes,” which AAPA sponsored with the U.S. Maritime Administration.
Nagle said last year’s transportation reauthorization bill, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), was significant for seaports “in terms of starting the process of developing a national freight policy and strategy. So we and our ports are very engaged in that process as it is being developed and implemented” with a focus on improving landside connection to ports.
AAPA is also focused on funding and legislation “that would better address our needs in terms of our waterside infrastructure,” both in maintaining existing navigation channels and improving them by making them wider and deeper, Nagle said.
He noted only about half of the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT), which collects about $1.5 billion per year, is spent on maintaining waterways.
The Army Corps of Engineers needs about that much money—about $1.5 billion—to maintain the nation’s waterways, but because it only gets about half that amount, it is “is robbing Peter to pay Paul, doing what they can with less than adequate resources,” Nagle said.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will ohld a committee on Thursday, “The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and the Need to Invest in the Nation’s Ports.”
Nagle said he's pleased there is growing awareness of the problems of inadequately maintained waterways and what he said was the inequity of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund where a large surplus is being used to offset the general federal deficit rather than for its intended purpose.
Earlier this month, Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr., R-La., again introduced a piece a legislation called the Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) Act, H.R. 335, that would guarantee funds collected on imports at ports within the United States by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are used for the sole purpose of dredging and maintaining the nation’s waterways
Maintenance and deepening of harbors “needs to be a higher priority both in terms of needs and the impact it is having on our competitiveness internationally,” Nagle said.
Nagle said AAPA and its members support first using the HMTF to fully maintain the existing federal navigation system, not construction of new, deeper waterways, because “that was the original purpose of that tax, that fund.”
He said AAPA recognizes there are “equity issues” arising from the fact that some of the biggest contributors to the trust fund also receive relatively little from it because they are naturally deep harbors.
At the same time, Nagle said there's a need for further deepening of some harbors, some to 50 feet or beyond.
Asked if there needs to be a better system of prioritizing funding of harbor deepening projects in the United States, Nagle said “as an association we would not get into saying we think you should prioritize Port A over Port B.”
He said deepening harbors is “critical to the federal economy, to our competiveness internationally—not only the president’s short-term goal of doubling exports in five years, but more importantly the sustainability of our ability to grow exports.
“We need a transportation system, particularly in and out of our ports, that makes our goods competitive whether it is our coal, grain, manufactured goods, automobiles… and that trade brings in $200 billion in tax revenues” to local, state and federal governments, he said.
Nagle also made the point that prioritization of deepening projects are somewhat self-determining because local and state governments and terminals carry the lion’s share of the cost of any deepening project.
He said public ports and their private-sector partners are planning to invest $46 billion over the next five years in infrastructure.
“They are making investments in the millions and billion of dollars in the landside infrastructure and terminal facilities. Plus if it is greater than 45 feet, which most of these more significant major deepenings are, those local sponsors are paying 60 percent of the deepening. It is not a case of people going to Washington with their hands out saying ‘please deepen our channels, we think it might drive business.’ They are making the business decision to make the investment both on the channel and landside." - Chris Dupin